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tv   Charlie Rose  PBS  August 2, 2012 12:00am-1:00am PDT

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mayor of pennsylvania. >> if you run for political office, charlie, and you don't believe there are some things important enough that you're willing to risk your political career on, then save us the trouble. don't run. don't run. you've got to believe in something if you want to run for office. you've got to believe that you want to accomplish something, whatever it is, whatever it is. and you have to have the gut to do it. >> author jim holt talks about his book "why does the world exist?" >> question, why does the world exist, why does the universe exist, rhymes with the question, why do i exist? i don't know if you've ever been mystified by your existence. i find it astonishing that i exist. it's vastly improbable that you or i should exist. >> politics and philosophy when we continue. which have captioning sponsored by rose communications
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from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: we begin this evening with a look at the 2012 election. new polls show president obama holds a slight edge over mitt romney in ohio, florida, and pennsylvania. the candidates continue to battle for control over these swing states as they prepare for their nominating conventions. the economy remains a deciding issue for voters. president obama fights to confident his economic record. many americans remain concerned about mitt romney's private sector background. governor romney recently wrapped up his seven-day trip overseas where he tried to reflect his foreign policy credentials. joining me now from washington, chuck todd. he is the chief white house correspondent for nbc news, and
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host of "the daily rundown" on msnbc, for all of those reasons and more, i am pleased to have him back on this program. welcome. >> thank you, their. >> rose: what do we read on these polls from three states on the impact of negative campaigns, negative commercials, of how they are succeeding in defining each other, especially the president defining mitt romney is it. >> right. well, even before we had these polls, there was a sense-- you talked to both campaigns and just sort of a lot of times it's what campaigns say and what they don't say that can tell you a lot. you know, you keep hearing out of the romney campaign, charlie, that there's going to be time to introduce mitt romney to everybody at the convention. there's going to be time to do this down the road. well, that's also code for they didn't get it done in june and july. and the way i have been looking at the campaign is it's divide up into sort of two halves. the first half was from about mid-april to now. and this was this "get to know
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romney" stage and it was always going to be a battle between the obama campaign and trying to define romney before romney could define himself. i think it's pretty clear, rom ne's folks would admit that the president's-- had more luck defining romney than romney has himself. now, as for these new state polls out today, the romney campaign is disputing the size of the leads. but i think that's interesting is they're not dispewing the fact that maybe the president could be a little bit ahead. they don't believe he's over 50 and they don't believe the leads are double digitsic like the one in pen pep. they do acknowledge they're a little behind. they say the president outspent us. the first part of your question, charlie, which is, yes. when it comes to defining mitt romney, the obama campaign has outspent the romney campaign and it is one of these things, charlie, that i think if somehow romney comes up short in november, this will be-- we will
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point to the last 45 days and we will point to that period of, say, between june 15 and july 31 of did the romney campaign allow sort of-- sort of lose control of its biography, too much so to the obama campaign? >> rose: the question is why? why did they do that? everybody knows that that's what they were trying to do. >> i think a couple of things here. one is, look, the romney campaign believed that this is not one of those elections that biography is going to matter. they believe in their heart of hearts that this is going to be like '08y and '92, and frankly, a little bit of '68, where any questions that the public might have of the challenger is always going to be outweighed by how they're feeling in the moment and how they're feeling about their situation and the feeling that, you know, what? the last four years haven't gone so well, and the party in power or the president in power deserves to be punished for it. so they believe that any time
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spent by romney talking about himself was time wasted, that they should spend time talking about the economy. what's interesting to me, though, charlie is what have we seep in the last 48 hours? the first biospot from romney that i've seen in nine months. it's mitt romney driving, talking about his days at the olympics, talking about his days as massachusetts governor. we haven't seen a spot like that, i think, since december in iowa. so they know that they blew it. they'll never say it. but actions are speaking louder than any words. >> rose: there is this, the notion that the president has more empathy for them, for the people who are polled, and cares more about them. i mean, that is something that-- from my own political observation-- goes to the heart of likeability, which is always a factor. >> well, the idea that likeability doesn't matter-- i mean-- look, presidential politics-- presidential elections are different.
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senate elections, house elections, gubernatorial elections. those elections can be won on referendums. presidential elections they're not full referendums. at the end of the day there is the sort of gut-level vote. lee atwater was a believer in this and so was james carville in one aspect. presidential politics is about-- every presidential election is a values election. the question is how do you define values in that time, right? and, you know, sometimes it's family values. sometimes it's financial values. sometimes it's american values. who is able to control that narrative of values? and you bring up a good point in our own nbc/wall street journal poll we asked a couple of questions, who does better, romney or obama on various aspects? when you say who is likely to have better economic plans? romney. who is likely to be looking out for the middle class? obama. the question of the middle class, you would think, wait a minute. isn't that an economics
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question? no, it's a values question. that's another problem romney has. he's losing the values argument here the way you just put it. you know, sometimes i look at this political landscape and the economic landscape and i say how is the president ahead? and so i actually okay at this-- i always ask another question to try to figure out what's wrong here with romney? why isn't mitt romney already ahead? and the fact is, i keep coming back to a couple of things. one, he's not ahead because i think that he hasn't articulated who he is and he's losing this values argument to obama. but the second thing which we haven't brought up yet but i want to get to, i actually think the republican brand is still a mess with the middle of the american public, the independents and the sort of center-right, center-left folks who might be persuadable, and that is serving as more of a drag on romney than i think any of us talk about. >> rose: how does he spike to that, the independent vote? >> well, see, this is another thing. i don't-- it doesn't feel as if
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romney is focused on those voters. you know, let's take the foreign policy swing. that was a swing that felt like was designed for primary voters, for people that were the most engaged in the israel issue, the most engaged in eastern europe. this was not designed to look-- to look like you were trying to win over the middle. he hasn't gone after the issue of sort of broken washington, right. this is the favorite topic of a lot of us that watch this. we know this town's a mess. it's not working. why didn't it work? it's potentially a very powerful argument against the president-- "you promised you were going to fix these things. you couldn't do it." we haven't heard romney say here's w he's going to do it. instead he's run a much more i would say an ideological safe campaign. it's almost like he's always worried about upsetting the base, rather than thinking about well what about the sort of--
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the dis-- they're not the angry middle but they're sort of the disappointed middle. >> rose: what do you read from the results in texas where a tea party member beat the lieutenant governor who was supported by rick perriche the governor? >> well, i would-- i would book end it with the event that happened earlier in the day yesterday. you had a republican congressman, stephen latourette, moderate, one of the few republicans in the house that was going to be endorsed by labor, the afl-cio, deciding to retire because he was frustrated by the fact that if you tried to compromise, you were called a moderate or you were called into question. that happens at the beginning of the day. and at the end of the day, ted cruz wins this primary, going away basically because they were able to paint their opponent as a moderate, as somebody who wasn't going to be a grass-roots conservative, who wasn't a true
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creativity. and i think what you're seeing is just this shift in the republican party. there's a tv ad that was run in texas, charlie, that i think is the most important tv ad that's been aired this year in explaining what's going on in the republican party. club for growth runs an ad on behalf the ted cruz that attacks david duehurst because the "morning dallas news" said david duehurst of a moderate at heart. that was a negative ad. it was not a positive ad. >> rose: look at the key its note speakers, the mayor of arizona. who is going to be the keynote speaker for the republicans? >> it appears it's chris christie. the republican party wants to become the sort of-- we're anything to be the-- you gotta take your medicine party. we're going to do the tough things. rhetoric is one thing. action another. and we can have the debate on whether the actions are actually matching the rhetoric. what is the message the democrats are trying to send
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with julio castro? they know-- their road to the white house goes through hispanic america. and they're-- there's not a lot of hispanic rising stars inside the dee democratic party, and jn castro is the mayor of one of the fastest growing cities in the country. they're trying to send a message to hispanics in nevada, colorado in particular, that, hey, we know-- we're trying to show you that we're a party that's diverse. >> rose: back to the independent voters which have always been decisive, what is it on their mind? >> you see some of it in polling. they're-- this undecided voter in the polling i've seen is very disappointed and almost disaffected. they completely don't buy into anything that's coming out of washington. they think the country is head farther off the wrong track than even the public as a whole. they're very disappointed in the president but they seem to like
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mitt romney even less. and they strike me, frankly, as voters that are making the decision between holding their nose and voting for romney, or just not voting at all. that's one group of voters. then it's the other ones that i've seen participate in focus groups who they seem to be disappointed in obama, for whatever reason they thought they were supporting him, it's not who they thought they were getting and they come back to they just don't know mitt romney and they're not sure about where the republican party is. and that to me is why you're going to see obama campaign focused on trying to paint romney as somebody who is going to be beholden to the most conservative elements of the republican party. and, charlie, you see these little segmented ads. i see them pop up in northern investigator. >> add at women, aimed at hispanics. that's one message. and then you see the romney folks finally starting to figure out how to appeal to these people, this group of voters by saying, you know what? we gave him a chance. it's okay to make a change.
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and they're even using that specific language. >> rose: it's great to see you, chuck. i hope we can do this again. thank you so much. >> you got it, charlie. >> rose: chuck todd, nbc news and msnbc. governor ed rendell is here. we'll talk more politics with him. ed rendell is here. he has been in politics for a long time, former governor of pennsylvania. his book is called "a nation of wusss: how america's leaders lost the guts to make us great." i am pleased to have ed rendell back at this table, welcome. there is an endorsement here from sean hannity, president bill clinton, and your friend chris matthews. that's across the whole spectrum. so what's the point here? where are the good alreadies going? >> the point is, one, we've
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become afraid of losing our jobs. that's the thing that drives politics, even more than the ideological polarization. and, two, we don't have respect for our citizens. in other words, we think tathat they're all awe tom tons who react in a very narrow way. take the issue of gun control. charlie, if the president of the united states-- and i'm not following him over governor romney-- faulting him over governor romney or anybody else, if the president had said two, three, days after arizona, going back to to you son and gabby gird, said, "everybody who is sane knows we shouldn't allow people to possess assault rifles, everybody who is sane says we shouldn't let people hold magazines that have more than 10 clips in each magazine, 10 bullets in each magazine, i'm going to ask the congress to outlaw them. and i want all americans to say enough is enough. no more tu sons.
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no more auror as. it's time to do something, america. this doesn't impinge on the rights of any lawful gun owner. let's get it done. >> rose: i have nothing against guns. i just don't think you need an ak-47. >> polls show, 70% of the public, including more than 60% of republicans, said let's ban the multiple magazine clips that have 33 bullets, 100 bullets. let's ban them. the american people are smart. the n.r.a. members are smart. gun owners are smart. they're not all awe tom tons. i ran three times for governor. i won by 10%, 12%, and 21%, and i was a gun control mayor, avid gun control mayor. people aren't dumb. >> rose: what other politicians, including today-- because there's not a great debate going on-- about gun control and doing something? there was no initiative that really came out--
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>> frank lautenberg and carolyn mccarthy. very little. >> rose: what are they seeing that makes them so cautious? >> they all go back to '94 when the losses the democrats suffered in bill clinton's first term were all attributed to the assault weapons bill. remember, bill clinton raised taxes. there was the furor over don't ask, don't tell, the health care stuff with hillary and bill. there were so many different things that went into that election. they're not thinking with their heads. plus, a lot of things have happened to change the american consciousness. do you know, charlie-- and i didn't know this until someone showed me-- between 2000 and 2006, seven years, we had no maz killings. since 2007 we have had 15, including five last year, five last year. it's unbelievable how the consciousness of americans have changed by the carnage. >> rose: okay, do you believe, though, that the people who are committing these acts would have still be able to commit them if
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it didn't have the kind of access they have to guns today? would they find some other way to do it, if, in fact, as others have suggested, the problem is not the guns. the problem is what's happening in the heads of people and what kind of cultural influence is there? >> why why don't we enforce the law that congress passed that says every state has to report to the federal government anyone who has mental health problems. half the states don't do it. in loughner's case, the tucson killer, he had clear mental health problems but arizona didn't report that to the federal government because we haven't even enforced the laws we do have. >> rose: and we know the suspect in aurora was seeing a psychiatrist. >> absolutely. and let's assume holmes didn't have automatic weapons. let's assume he regular revolver with a 10-bullet clip. to fire the same amount of shots that he fired in the first second seconds-- police estimate he fired close to 60 shots in 60 seconds-- he would have had to
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reload five times. there's no way he does that in a minute and maybe doesn't get brought down, tackled as he's reloading. would that by have gone into that theater with some form of destructive notion? of course he would have, unless we stopped him because we tightepped up our mental health laws. remember where he bought the weapons. he didn't buy them in some acalley. i'm sorry. that shouldn't be allowed in america. >> rose: you properly articulated that's a winning issue in america. >> winning issue. limit it. don't do the whole assault weapons bill again. just say two things-- americans, nobody should have an assault rifle. only for combat. only for killing. only for killing as fast as you can. no one needs a clip with more than 10 bullets in it, right, america? those two things. put them in by themselves, pass them. pass them. and let's see. >> rose: but there's the fear that lobbying against them can
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be directly and focused and you lose your seat in congress. >> bilet way, i title all my own chapters-- i had a great time titling my chapters-- i had a great time writing the book. one of my chapters is called, stand and defend. there are some things worth losing for." if you run for political office, charlie, and you don't believe there are some things that are important enough that you're willing to risk your political career on them. save us the trouble. don't run. don't run. you have to believe if something if you want to run for office. you have to believe you want to accomplish something, whatever it is, whatever it is. you have to have the guts to do it. one of the heroes in the book, tom coburn. tom courn and i probably agree on 20% of the issues. >> rose: and probably very much disagree on abortion. >> disagree on a lot of things. he not only had enough to sign on to simpson-bowles but he took on grover. grover is tough.
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when he said we're going to get rid of the tax loopholes. norquist said you violated your pledge, that's a tax increase. he told grover norquist to pound sand. we need more americans like tom coburn on both sides of the aisle. >> rose: and what are the other issues you think we need to stand up for? >> clearly, the deficit. we are not going to get rid of the deficit unless we do tough and painful things. but the message should be will, folks, look, guys, you all understand this. we can't do it on cuts alone. so we have to raise revenue. we're going to raise revenue in a way that doesn't hurt the average person too much. and on entitlements. let's talk to our seniors. let's talk truth to seniors. when medicare was passed in 1964, the average life expectancy was 69 years of age. medicare was meant to cover four or five years of health care for a senior citizen. today, if you live to 65, your
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average life expectancy i think is 86 or 87. it never was meant to cover that many years so of course there have to be changes. some can be painless. uncap eye mean means test it. there's no reason i should be getting medicare right now. the income-- or you should be getting medicare eye don't know if you do. but there's no reason either of us should be getting medicare. some are painless but there are some we have to limit the benefits or change the age. my friend nancy pelosi went crazy when she heard the proposal to change the aid. she said, "what about the chambermaid who spends 40 years making people's bed and whose back can barely take it? we are going to have to tell her she have to work two years longer." then exochment people who made x-amount of dollars for the last 10 years of their career. it isn't rocket science. it's just finding the will to
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get this done. >> rose: if in fact we follow the prescription you're suggest, do you think we would not have the dysfunctional washington we have? >> absolutely. i don't think it's just ideological polarization although there is that, too, and the political game playing. it's basic fear of repercussions from the base. and as redistricting making it less likely you'll lose in the general election, office holders fear their base. they don't fear the general electorate. they fear their base. if you look at the republicans who lost, it's from the right, not from the general elections. >> rose: ask richard lugar. >> ask richard lugar, ask a lot of good people. and democrats they lose challenges from the left. so i think we have got to go back to trying to meet in the middle. and we've got to get back to the time when americans helped each other. interestingly, people say, "that
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was a long time ago, governor." no it wasn't. what were george w. bushes three major initiatives -- the war, medicare part d., and no child left behind. almost every democrat voted for the war. most democrats, a majority voted for medicare part d. and who was the author president bush's legislation for no child left behind? >> rose: edward kennedy. >> edward kennedy the liberal lion. that was not that long ago. how did it go so bad so quickly. >> rose: let me turn to the election where do you see it? >> barack obama being elected in the electoral college. >> rose: but not necessarily in the popular vote. >> not necessarily in the popular vote. president obama has a good, solid lead in the states i think he could lose red states by
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enormous majorities. >> rose: places like texas-- >> absolutely. look at john kerry's election. if he had gotten 71,000 more votes in ohio, he's president of the united states despite getting three million less popular votes, direct votes, three million less votes. it's one of the reasons i say in the book, we've get to begin the process -- >> rose: what could john kerry have done to have won ohio? >> ( sighs ) many things, many things. the easy way he wins ohio and the election, is answer the swift boat ad the way it came out. look in the camera-- this is a wuss thing. john kerry is not a wuss, but look if the camera and say how dare they? i took the most dangerous job a naval lieutenant could take, a swift boat captain. my opponent, the president, hid out in the national guard. how dare they attack my war record. he does that he's president of the united states. >> rose: why didn't he do it? did somebody say do that and he
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said no? >> i don't know the inner workers of the campaign. he blunts the effects of the swift boat ad but he looks like a leader. >> rose: they had him on the windsurfer. >> right. the one thing people don't seem to grasp-- barack obama is maybe as smart a man as i ever met or-- man or woman. >> rose: as smart a man-- >> as i ever met. he grasps a lot of things. he's a quick study on stuff. but it's also about leadership -- >> rose: he doesn't grasp leadership? >> he doesn't grasp going out there and fighting and losing. you can fight and lose and still look like a strong leader. because you're out there pressing for your-- the issues that you care about. see, i think people said, if the president-- the president's response he was great in his speech down at the urban league, but he said we're going to defer action until after the election. if he looked at the camera and said, "we can't wait. i can't wait until after the election. there could be another tucson or
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there could be another aurora. i'm asking the congress to come back and to pass those two very limited things which will reduce the chance of carnage at that level." even if he lost, i think people would have said, he's out there fighting for what he believes in it. that's what i think people want is leadership. >> rose: it works in another way, too. it is said by people who look at politics in a smart way, that ronald reagan, many people voted for him, even though they did not agree with him, because they thought he expressed and he was a man of integrity, and expressed and said what he believed in. >> absolutely. i think that's important. ironically, the president was no wuss when it came to the auto bailout. rember how hated it was when he did it. but he did it because he believed it was right. he was no wuss on the financial bailout. it would have been very popular to short circility the financial bailout. he was no wuss on health care. his agents told him to go slow
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-- >> rose: rom emanual argued about it. >> he said this is the only time i'm going to have these majorities. this is the only time i can erase what is a national disgrace that this is the only nation that doesn't take care of the health care needs of its people. >> rose: could he have done it without an individual mandate which seemed to drive them crazy. >> you can't not have an individual mandate and ask health insurance companies to absorb people with preexisting illnesses. it doesn't work financially. the individual mandate brings the healthy people into the pool because we're requiring that people with cancer are taken bothe pool by the health care companies. a great suggestion by john kerry in '04, that the government get into the stop-loss business. we say, yes, you have to take that cancer patient, mr. insurance company, but after the first $50,000 of treatment, the government will take two-third of the cost. now that would be a cost factor.
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but that alone, what would have happened there is everyone's premiums would have gone ratcheting down, every business premium, every individual premium would have gone down because it's the $780,000 patients in a year that drive up our costs. it's not the ordinary -- >> rose: we're talking about leadership here. is there a perception that president obama did not lead because he did not show enough leadership within his own party when health care and bailout on the financial frontier took place, that he should haveeen there and guiding that legislation more than he was? >> well, again, i think he made a mistake by deferring the legislation-- by passing it over to the congress. he was at 80% popularity -- >> rose: he should have said this is what i want. >> that's what leadershiis all about. again, give him credit, charlie. those were three tough decision politically, and he made those decisions in the best interest of the country. and it's one of the reasons i think we're better off today than we were. we're certainly not in great
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shape, but i'd ask every voter to think-- just think of would be thing-- think of january 2009, losing 750,000 jobs a month. gaining 80,000 jobs doesn't look so bad. >> rose: well, but there are a lot of people who look at it and say the focus on that with a laser-like focus, we would have a different unemployment situation today, by focusing on health care as he did, he ended up with losing in massachusetts, a senate there. so he did not have a veto-proof. and, therefore, that's the trouble that he had, and, therefore, he ended up with the kind of, you know, 2010 results and now he faces a-- >> but i would argue-- and the president actually affirmed what i said in the book about part of their problem being communication. what was the first major initiatist of the obama administration? it wasn't health care. what was the first major initiative? the stimulus. >> rose: of course. the $900 billion stimulus. >> a giant bill, never been done
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before. well, yeah -- >> rose: they made the same criticism for that, that they did about health care, that too much was given over to the congress to develop and that they should have done more and that the things they're now talking about could have been done better there. >> some of that criticism -- >> rose: one of the things you suggested-- >> should have been tripled. should have been tripled. no question. but let me give you an example of how badly they communicated. if you went into the streets of any american city and stopped the first 1,000 people and said, "do you earn less than $250,000." "yes, sir." "did you get a tax cut from president obama's stimulus bull?" i would say no more than 20 would say yes, and yet every single family that earned less than $250,000, got an $800 tax cut, but nobody told them about it and it came out of payroll deductions so it was hardly enough to even barely notice but $800 over the year is fairly significant. but nobody noticed that because they did such a lousy job communicating what was in the
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stimulus bill. the president never even laid it out section by section. people come to me and say raising benefits under food stamps. how is that stimulative? it's the most stimulative you can do because you get food stamps in a month. you have to spend them in that month. you can't horde them. you can't save them. you have to go out to your supermarket or mom and pop and spend them. it gets mainlined into economy. the president never explained that. so people thought raising the benefit for food stamps was welfare. but it was stimulus. >> rose: are you disappointed in the campaign so far on both sides because they have not laid out a vision for the future? >> yeah, but-- but-- but i will say that i believe presidential campaigns really don't get under way until the conventions. and i think there's-- there is time. i'm not saying they will. but there's plenty of time to lay out their vision. >> rose: but the argument also is he may be being defined right now in a way he cannot escape. did the campaign make a mistake
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by not more vociferously-- >> stake out new ground. i think that's right. governor romney-- it boggles mind. i know governor romney. i served as two years -- >> rose: what did you think of him? >> i thought he was a smart, competent guy who did something terrific in massachusetts health care plan, terrific. >> rose: right. >> in fact we went up and spent six hours with him and he was teaching us what was in the health care plan, and, boy, was he proud of it. >> rose: he was a believer. >> he was a true believer back then. i'm stunned at these mistakes, one after the other, and each mistake -- >> rose: how do you explain it? >> i can't. each is not a game change ebut cumulatively, if people take a character and believe europe a dufus, or a gaffe machine or they believe you're just not ready to be president, then it almost doesn't matter what the joblessness figures are. i don't think he's there yet, but the cumulative weight of
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these mistakes, these statementes, the cumulative weight of it is growing. and it's particularly dangerous for mitt romney because he has changed his positions, and some of that is explainable. some of it isn't, in my judgment. and because there's-- mize week says wimp. it's the same thing as wuss. governor romney had a chance to shed that wuss label early on. do you remember the first or second debate when they had call-in questions and the soldier called in and said he was gay and he was in, i think, afghanistan, and the crowd went nuts booing him. all the candidates, including governor romney, stayed silent. what governor romney should have done, looked into the camera and said to the audience, "stop it. i don't care what you think of this man's orientation or choices he's made in his lifetime. he's out there risking his life protecting us, and he deserves your respect and admiration." >> rose: that's a chris
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christie kind of thing. >> even if he got booed again by the crowd, he would have been the winner nationally. >> rose: is the race primarily an assessment of whether-- of the leadership, responsibilities of the president that will be judged here? >> when people vote for president, mayor, governor, county commissioner, they vote on leadership issues, on leadership issues. so i think governor romney has a chance to wipe the slate clean in his convention address and in the three debates. and if you think about it, what has he done well this year? his debate performance, with the exception i think of south carolina, have been pretty strong. focused, tight, a good responses, looked strong. looked like a leader. i think he's going to do well in the debates. fortunately for our side barack obama is a great debater. but the governor romney will have the low expectation thing -- >> rose: as george bush against al gore. >> i think he has a chance to turn it around -- >> rose: and ronald reagan
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against jimmy carter. >> absolutely. what the american people are looking for i think with governor romney is can he lead? can he be president? i don't think he's made the sale yet. >> rose: he has to say with people if you're dissatisfied with the way the country is going, trending, if you have questions about president obama, i can fill those shoes. >> right. he's got to convince them that he can lead. let's say he reaches that bar. then he's got to give a little bit of a road map to how he's going to get us out of this. and right now the only road map you have heard is the ryan budget which is what president bush tried. and i don't know if that's saleable, either. he's got a tough task. the president has a tough task because he's inherently put in a position of saying, "i have the answers, but they wouldn't let me do it" pointing to the congress. and that-- i believe that's true. but that sounds a little, you know, a little wimpo or with use
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itself. >> rose: governor ed rendell, "a nation of with uses: how america's leaders lost the guts to make us great." back in a moment. stay with us. jim holt is here. he writes about science for "the new yorker" and the "new york times." his least book is called, "why does the world exist?" it tells of his conversations with brilliant people who spent their lives pondering why there is something rather than nothing. in the end, there may be more questions than answers, but jim holt certainly makes the journey interesting. i am pleaseto have him here at this table. welcome. >> thank you. >> rose: how long have you been thinking about this question? >> i have been thinking about it since i was a teenager. i was raised in a devout catholic family. as you know, the religious orthodox answer to the question, "why does the universe exist?" is because god made the universe. why does god exist? that's what god is in the business of doing. so when i was a teenager, i
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began to doubt this religious story, and i was an obnoxious precocious teenager and was interested in philosophy and got a book by martin heidener, and the book was called introduction to metaphysics, and the first sentence was, why is there something rather than nothing?" the poetry of it bowled me over. i have been pondering ever since. >> rose: why doesn't you call it why is there something rather than nothing? >> i would have liked to have done so, but, unfortunately, a polish philosopher had a book out three or four years ago before he died. >> rose: what you do that's really interest ago and this is why i'm envious of what you do-- you go around asking people questions, and you have a series of conversations with the smartest people you could find in search of the question. >> exactly. it was a quest eye mean, i remember hearing martin amose on
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the bill moyers show years and years ago, and bill moyers said why does the university exist? and martin amos said i think we're about five einsteins away from knowing the answer to naquestion. i thought five einsteins. that sounds about right. maybe there are five einsteins out there and i judg have to gem in the right order. >> rose: how did you begin the search, the journey? >> first of all, the reason this question just becomes such acute importance recently-- it's not just a teenaged obsession of mine. it became quite important when the god wars broke out. the arguments between the so-called neo-atheists like richard dawkins, christopher hitchins, daniel denet. and religious leaders, the defenders of religion. when christopher hitchens-- a friend of both of ours-- was on the tv defending his book, someone like sean hannity would
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say, if u don't accept that god exists, how can you explain why there's a world at all? and christopher and dawkins don't really have good answers to this question. there are -- >> rose: he's an atheist isn't he? >> not just an anti-atheist-- not only did he not believe god existed. he was glad god did not exist. because if he wa existed we loby living in the equivalent of north korea. dawkins believes scientists can answer this question. and there is physicists like krause, who has written a book purporting to explain in scientific terms how a universe arose out of pure nothingness. >> rose: is that mainly math? >> yeah, it's equations that seem to imply that as he puts it, nothing is as unstable. so if there was a state of pure nothingness, the universe would
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leap out of it by a quantum miracle. >> rose: it's the security of science and math. >> yeah. what struck me was that the alternative seemed to be either god made the world or science can explain how the world came into existence out of nothingness or there is no explapgz. it's just a brute fact that the universe exists. that's what pertrapped russell thought. there was no reason -- >> rose: doesn't dnt you suggest three ways to go at it. one, science, two philosophy, three religion. >> right. but i thought-- maybe there are more-- there were more options out there. maybe we should length the list of suspects. it's not just god, the big bang, or brute fact. i talked to people-- some great thinkers who came up with rather rococo wild-sounding ideas. one was sir roger pendrose. he believes like plato that mathematical ideas have an
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abstract existence apart from the human mind, and that they-- they're eternal. and somehow they've given rise to the empirical world that we see around us. and this sounds like a crazy sort of lotus-leaf-eating theory but he defends with great brilliance. >> rose:avul the ones you talked to, did one make more sense than the others? did one come up with a theor of everything? >> yes, and i didn't discover that person until the very end of my quest. first i talked to scientists and got the best they could offer. thelogeians, very moving accounts of how the explanation for the existence of the universe logically led to the incarnation of jesus christ from a great prosfer and theologian in oxford. i talked to john updike shortly before he died-- he was quite interested in this question. the one guy who really nailed for me and enabled me to see how it answered, if the mystery of
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existence could take place was a philosopher caret pacificet, a moral philosopher. he has just written a very important book and he was profiled in "the new yorker" about a year ago. he enabled me to see the question of why there is something rather than nothing in an entirely new light. so-- and building on his apparatus, at the very end of the book, i could actually co up with what i thought was a convincing explanation of why reality takes the form it does. so it's not my insight. it's i'm standing on his shoulders. >> rose: pray tell, explain to me what it seemed like. >> what he said is don't try to imagine how a can come out of nothing, how something can come out of nothing. that's impossible. you can never explain that. there's no logical bridge between something and nothing. instead of think of all the different ways reality could have turned out.
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suppose there had been nothingness. that would be the simplest way. that would be interesting. suppose all possible worlds exist-- as some people believe-- that would be the most pleasantitudeness, or suppose the world were as good a world as possible, that would be interesting. then maybe the goodness of the world would be a clue why it existed. if you think of all the different ways reality could have turned out-- some have special features and some don't. now i-- basically, if you're looking for want most general principle that governs reality, you're not truly-- it's not a purely scientific quest. science and philosophy sort of blur together. you have to use both scientific and philosophical principles. the principle that science uses in looking for the best theories of principled simplicity, you always go for the sim left
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theory. physics will tell you that's the most likely to be true, and the philosophical principle that is relevant is the principle of fullness, which goes back to plato. if you put these principles together, reason along the lines that derek parit laid out, you come to a very iron i think conclusion in the most likely form reality should take is a form of infinite messiness and mediocrity. lo and behold, that seems to be very much the universe we live in. >> rose: are there new discoveries that are trying to understand matter? >> yeah. >> rose: does that help you at all? >> the implication of higs bosson, the particle that corresponds to the higs field. what does the hickenloopers field do? it makes the universe messier. it breaks the symmetry between
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tho particles and makes the universe merrier placeses than it otherwise would be. this goes with my theory that the universe is infinitely a mediocre mess. science is very good at explaining how a universe like ourselves arose from almost nothing. i mean, you can-- i talked to one guy, a brilliant physicist named andrei linda, and he said it's very possible our universe was made by a hacker physicist in another universe. you just need one-thousandth of a graham of matter -- >> rose: which came from something else? >> the reason our universe is so crummy and mediocre is because it was made by an incompetent physicist hacker in another universe. the interesting thing about that scenario, if our universe were made by an intelligent being in another world the being would not be able to send a message
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says, "remember, i made you." as our universe blow -- >> rose: one of the things you cois describe how these people live and work. you have a really interesting observational eye about when you go for these interviews. they're all english speakers, too, yes? >> except for some french-- a french buddhist monk who spoke french. but most of them were english. they were either in america, the stephen wineberg, for instance, in texas. and -- >> rose: what did he tell you? >> he was very skeptical. i mean, he doesn't think that science can dispel all the mystery. most physicists agree with him. >> rose: where do they-- >> even the final theory of physics is not going to tell us why that's the correct theory. it could be-- there are many logically possible theories. >> rose: that's where a lot of believers come from, too. science can't explain it so
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therefore-- >> they hope science can't explain it because they want it keep it for religion. why is there a universe at all? >> rose: you can't explain it so, therefore, it must be based on faith. >> right. suppose they're right. suppose the religious people are right and there is a god. why does god exist? the great theologian i-- even god couldn't know the reason why he existed if he does exist. he must wonder where do i come from? what gl what i read into the following two facts, you wrote a book, "stop me if you've heard this," and now a book called of "why does the world exist?" out of the same mind comes the fascination with jokes on one hand and who we are on the other hand. >> it's the deepest complexities that move us to humor. the question, "why is there something rather than nothing," does lend itself to jokes.
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i said, you know, arther, why is there something rather than nothing is it and he said,"who says there's not nothing." >> rose: you also talk movingly about your moth. >> the question, "why does the world exist. why does the universe exist, rhymes with the question why do i exist. i find it astonishing that i exist. when you think of the genetically possible humans it's vastly improbable that you and i can exist. what do i consist in and the matter of death. when myself will sink back into nothingness. while writing these chapters my mother was diagnosed with cancer and died a month and a half splatter i drove down to where she lived in the shenandoah valley and i was in the room with her alone when she died. so many people had this experience but it's weird to see a self flicker into nonexistence
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before your eyes and especially in this case. it makes me feel how weird existence is. we talk about the world existing, and ourselves existing. if somehow my parents had reallied their sexual congress a little differently, in a different zygoted form, there would be no me. there would have been nothingness. there would have been nothing rather than something. >> rose: are your parents nothingness now? >> i think so, yeah, yeah. even if you were not a religious believer, there are possibilities for immortality. there were purely secular scenarios for immortality. unfortunately, i don't believe any of them are true. we're all destined. we're all head to the joining. >> rose: "philosophy is a route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing." >> i'm being a little hard on
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philosophy there. it's a great deal of thought. >> rose: why are you a science writer? why are you fascinated by these cosmic questions? >> i love mathematic mathematicd headachesemathematic meagzsthina platonic world that is not part of the real world. science tells us how reality is structured mathematically but doesn't tell us about the intrinsic nature of the stuff. some scientists and philosophers have conjectured, the only stuff we know directly is consciousness. maybe the stuff out there is also conscienceness. maybe the world is actually structured mind. the idea is even electrons, protons, and neutrons are a little bits of protoconsciousness, and it's far from being something that arose 13 billion years into the existence of the universe, has been there from the very beginning. some sounds crazy, but sir arthur edington believe it. there are several philosophers
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now who believe it. william james took this idea very seriously that reality ultimately consists of mind. >> rose: once you decided to hone in on this and write this book, how long did it take you to do it? >> in 1994, i wrote an essay for "harper's" nothing ventured. that was '94, so ever since then on and off, in the suburbs of my mind at least. you know, it's also-- it's a little-- i think it's made me a little unhinge pd know who astrophysicist said why is there something rather than nothing if you ponder it too long it will tear your mind asunder. port an hidinger, who was obsessed with the question, he was a bit nutty. when he became the rector of the university of fryberg, i think
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it was, in the 1930s he gave a speech in which he said adolf hitler will reacquaint the german people with the nature of being. what a nutty thing that is to say. another case of that is the the kyoto school of buddhism, which has the most rarefied connection of nothingness. i found they were all-- i was wondering whether a pension for ondering these questions might lead you down the road to crazy farbility ofist leagues or something. >> rose: how has it changed you? this whole experience? >> a little bit of intellectual relief from seeing, you know, of solution of the mystery of existence takes shape. i have a much broader understanding of what it is to explain something. i mean, basic real to explain
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should go means to-- you feel the key turn in the lock. that's only way to put it. i think the scientific explanation we take more seriously today 1,000 years from now will seem parochial and medieval. >> rose: the world is called, "why does the world exist?" an existential detective story, jim holt, the author. thank you. >> thank you. >> rose: thankou for joining us. see you next time.
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>> this is n.b.r. >> susie: good evening. i'm susie gharib. no new steps to boost the economy, but federal reserve policymakers say still they're ready to act. >> tom: i'm tom hudson. what's an investor to make of the central banks in-decision? pimco's mohammed el-erian, joins us with what you need to know about today's fed meeting. >> susie: meanwhile, volatility rocks stocks after a technology issue at one big market maker leads to a bumpy open here at the big board. >> tom: that and more tonight on "n.b.r."! >> susie: no new action from the federal reserve today, but tom, policymakers gave strong hints that it is ready to take steps, if necessary, to boost the economy. >> tom: susie, the key words

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